'We had three tracks in the can': New book details lost Freddie Mercury collaboration with Michael Jackson

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Lesley-Ann Jones’s new biography Mercury: An Intimate Biography Of Freddie Mercury arrived on July 3, 2012, with a number of interesting musical revelations about the late former Queen frontman — including new details on his lost 1983 collaborations with Michael Jackson.

At one point, Mercury and Jackson (then living in a pre-Neverland mock-Tudor manse in Encino, California) actually had a trio of finished songs, Jones reports in the book. But busy schedules prevented the two superstars from getting any further, and soon both were on to other projects in 1984 — Jackson to a celebrated reunion with his brothers for the album Victory; and Mercury with Queen, who would release The Works and the No. 16 U.S. hit “Radio Ga Ga.”

Each of the tunes eventually appeared — though in different forms. “Victory” became the title track for the Jacksons LP, and “State of Shock” evolved into a No. 3 U.S. hit duet from Michael Jackson with Mick Jagger, also included on Victory. Meanwhile, “There Must Be More to Life Than This” would later finds a home on 1985’s Mr. Bad Guy, Mercury’s first solo album.

[SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: We dig into Queen favorites like “Under Pressure,” “Spread Your Wings” and “Stone Cold Crazy,” then return for spins of “You’re My Best Friend,” “Ogre Battle” and “Flash”.]

“We had three tracks in the can,” Mercury says in the book, “but unfortunately they were never finished. They were great songs, but the problem was time — as we were both very busy at that period. We never seemed to be in the same country long enough to actually finish anything completely.”

Mercury reveals that Jackson even contacted him about completing “State of Shock” for the Victory album, “but I couldn’t because I had commitments with Queen. Mick Jagger took over instead. It was a shame, but ultimately a song is a song. As long as the friendship is there, that’s what matters.”

Mercury said he met Jackson when the late King of Pop was still a youthful fan. “He used to come and see our shows all the time, and that is how the friendship grew … just think, I could have been on Thriller. Think of the royalties I’ve missed out on!”

AIDS-related illness claimed Mercury in 1991. Jackson died in 2009, having suffered a heart attack in the wake of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication.

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Queen. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

SHOULD QUEEN CONTINUE WITHOUT FREDDIE MERCURY AND JOHN DEACON? ADAM LAMBERT SAYS: ‘IT’S THEIR PREROGATIVE’: The news that Queen will appear with yet another lead singer has some fans returning to what’s becoming an age-old conundrum: Is it Queen without Freddie Mercury? Heck, is it Queen without John Deacon? Don’t ask Adam Lambert, the American Idol finalist who’ll front Queen at this year’s Sonisphere Festival. “That’s really up to (Queen co-founders) Brian (May) and Roger (Taylor); it’s their band,” Lambert said. “I think that at this point the feel what they’re doing is appropriate and it’s their prerogative. If someone feels like their legacy should be left alone then they’re missing out on a great concert. That’s the bottom line.”

QUEEN – DAYS OF OUR LIVES DVD (2012): As this sprawling new documentary makes clear, Queen knew — and from the very beginning — that they were on to something. That it took everyone else so long to notice only seemed to spark them to greater heights of genre-jumping, expectation-confounding genius. Because of the way that they had built their own legacy, Queen didn’t have a working template to get trapped in. “They were very opened minded, Queen audiences,” May adds. “We never felt constrained.”

ONE TRACK MIND: TANGERINE DREAM WITH BRIAN MAY, “STAR SOUNDS” (2011): You suspected, just from listening to his wildly inventive work with Queen, that there was little guitarist Brian May couldn’t do. This live collaboration with space-music pioneer Edgar Froese’s Tangerine Dream confirms it. Sure, May has a well-known interest in the cosmos and its exploration, having earned a doctorate degree in astrophysics. But, for all of the many styles that May has excelled at over the years, for all of the times he’s played completely in service of the song — showing such great flamboyance, then such sharp-edged restraint — I still didn’t know what to expect once that famously bushy mane was dropped in amidst this kind of long-form, open-ended improvisational music. We will, we will … space you?

ONE TRACK MIND: QUEEN + PAUL RODGERS, “SAY IT’S NOT TRUE” (2007): “Say It’s Not True” originally appeared on the group’s 2005 live album, Return of the Champions, in a more stripped-down acoustic form sung by Roger Taylor. This version, however, is a much more embellished studio recording with Brian May and Paul Rodgers contributing significantly. Otherwise, it’s a very typical charity song: The lyrics were a bit trite and obvious; the melody was also a bit simplistic. It felt like something we’d heard a million times before. Yet, while there were no real surprises in store, it managed to invoke some of the magic of Queen: It builds at just the right moment into a glorious power ballad.

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The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
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